Delayed upgrade of A5 'has cost lives,' says former Northern Ireland roads minister

The A5 carriageway that runs through the western half of Northern Ireland has acquired the infamous title of the worst road for deaths in all Ireland.

Families that have lost loved ones to road traffic collisions on the A5 have been taking their stories to a public inquiry that is examining proposals to make the route safer by creating a dual carriageway along the A5.

Grieving parents held placards and banners outside the Strule Arts Centre in Omagh. Among them was Kate Corrigan. Her son Nathan (21) and his two friends died in a collision just yards from the family home.

Kate says: “It’s chilling to think that the A5 upgrade was approved in 2007, but the project went nowhere. Since then 47 people have been killed in crashes on that road.”

Kate says every death on our roads re-traumatises her family: “I never thought that I’d be one of those families that have been affected by it. Every time we hear of another road traffic accident - and especially on the A5 - we’re just brought back to the morning we received the news.”

Although the A5 project was first announced in 2007, the scheme has been delayed by funding issues and legal challenges.

The Minister for Infrastructure who gave it the green light 16 years ago was Sinn Féin’s Conor Murphy MLA.

He believes that delaying the upgrade has cost lives: “The number of deaths on this road has been shocking. It’s no secret to say that this is the worst road in Ireland for deaths.”

He says the A5 needed to be upgraded as soon as possible, and he has urged the public inquiry to recommend building a new and safer road: “It’s time we ended this catalogue of fatalities on this route.”

The project was first announced in 2007 but since then the scheme has been beset by funding issues and legal challenges.

If the upgrade goes ahead, it would be the single largest road scheme ever undertaken in Northern Ireland.

It would mean the construction of 85km (53 miles) of new trunk road, and the bill could easily top £1.5billion.

The scheme has faced opposition, including from the campaign group Alternative A5 Alliance. It comprises farmers, landowners, and environmental lobbyists.

They agree the A5 needs to be improved, but they oppose the compulsory purchase of land that would be required by a new dual carriageway.

But there’s a growing mood of public support for the A5 project. A support group calling itself ‘Enough is Enough’ represents families that have lost loved ones to road traffic incidents on the route.

Niall McKenna who leads Enough is Enough says: “The people in this part of the world have accepted this road for far too long. The accident rate and the death rate on it are horrific. The 47 deaths since the scheme was approved in 2007 represent an average of one death every three or four months.”

The public inquiry, headed by Planning Appeals Commissioner Gareth Kerr, is investigating various aspects of the proposed roads scheme including its potential impact on the economy, its role in improving connectivity within an all-Ireland framework, and its ability to reduce journey times.

Primarily, though, the inquiry’s key focus will be on improving road safety - and that means saving lives.

Ultimately the inquiry will make a recommendation to the Department for Infrastructure, and the final decision on whether or not to proceed with this massive engineering scheme will be made at departmental level.

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